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Nāma-aparādha: The First Offense

To Criticize a Devotee

If we want to reach our destination, we need to follow the proper route and avoid the wrong route. We must know the distinction between them. Just as to follow a particular process we need to understand it clearly, in the same way, to avoid something we need to clearly understand what is to be avoided. In the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava community, much stress is given to nāma-japa and nāma-kīrtana. That is wonderful. Stress is also given to avoid offenses. That is also great. However, sufficient understanding of the offenses is not common knowledge. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī expands on the meaning of the offenses against the name. In the following anuccheda, he elaborates on the first offense.

Anuccheda 265.3

From the first offense, “To criticize genuine devotees of Bhagavān (the sat) is a grievous offense against the name,” it is evident that to commit physical violence to a devotee is so offensive that it defies verbal description. Blasphemy of devotees and other related offenses are as described in a dialogue between Śrī Mārkaṇḍeya and Bhagīratha in Skanda Purāṇa:

Those fools who blaspheme the Vaiṣṇava saints fall into the hell called Mahāraurava along with their forefathers. There are six transgressions that lead to such falldown: to kill Vaiṣṇavas, to criticize them, to bear malice toward them, to fail to greet them, to become angry at them, and to not feel happiness upon seeing them.

Even just to hear criticism of a Vaiṣṇava is an offense, as Śuka said:

One who hears criticism of Bhagavān or His devotees and does not leave the area loses all his piety and descends to hell. (SB 10.74.40)

When it is said that a person should leave the place where criticism of Bhagavān or His devotees is perpetrated, this applies specifically to one who is incapable of retaliation. If one is able, he should cut out the tongue of the critic, and if unable to do even this, he should give up his life, as the goddess Satī spoke:

 If a criticism is made of one’s worshipful Lord (Īśa), the protector of dharma, by human beings of frivolous nature, and one is incapable of retaliation, she should cover her ears and leave that place. If, however, she has the ability, she should forcibly cut out the foul tongue of the blasphemer, or even give up her own life. This is the way of virtue (dharma). (SB 4.4.17)

Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

The name is not a material sound but a conscious and blissful entity (caitanya-rasa-vigrahaḥ), nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa Himself (abhinnatvān nāma-nāminoḥ, BRS 1.2.233). Just as chanting is pleasing to the name, so too offenses displease the name. If examined carefully, offenses are understood to be those actions that contravene the sentiment of love. For example, the first offense is to criticize the devotees of Bhagavān. It is common knowledge that if you love someone, you should not criticize those who are dear to your beloved. Bhagavān or His name loves His devotees. If someone criticizes the devotees, the name will not be pleased with that person.

If such is the case even with criticism, then it goes without saying that harming a devotee in any way is an exceedingly grave offense and immensely displeasing to Bhagavān. This is understood from the story of King Ambarīṣa and sage Durvāsā, described in chapter four and five of the Ninth Canto. Many stories in Bhāgavata Purāṇa, such as those of King Citraketu, Vṛttrāsura, King Indradyumna, Ajāmila, and Dakṣa, are described to explain the intricacies of offenses to the name. In fact, the whole of the Bhāgavata can be seen as an attempt to educate spiritual aspirants about the offenses to the holy name, the importance of chanting the name, and pure devotion to Kṛṣṇa. This is so because in Kaliyuga, chanting of the name is the prescribed yuga-dharma (SB 11.5.31–32), and Bhāgavata Purāṇa was manifested specifically to provide vision for the people of Kali, who are blinded by ignorance (SB 1.3.44).

Just as it is an offense to criticize a devotee, so too it is an offense to hear criticism without raising an objection. For this reason, Satī recommends three possible retaliatory courses of action. The first is to cut out the critic’s tongue. If one is unable to do that, then one should give up one’s own life. If this too is not possible, then one should immediately cover one’s ears and leave the area. Out of these three, the first two recommendations are not to be taken literally, at least not in the context of the modern moral view. Rather, they are meant to impress upon us the severity even just of hearing criticism of Vaiṣṇavas and the need for appropriate action. Consequently, one should either try to verbally refute the critic or leave the place. But one should not remain neutral and should certainly not relish the criticism or support it.

When Draupadī was being insulted in the assembly of the Kauravas, great personalities like Bhīṣma did not object to it. Thus, all those people who did not raise an objection or leave the assembly became implicated in the offense. Similarly, when Dakṣa criticized Śiva for not honoring him, those who supported Dakṣa were subjected to the consequences of the offense. Among them, those such as Bhaga and Pūṣā received special punishment. Bhaga lost his eyes and Pūṣā his teeth.

In this context, it is noteworthy that when King Parīkṣit went on his world conquest and saw a bull being beaten by Kali personified in the guise of a barbarian (mlecchā), he understood that the bull was not ordinary but some divine being in the form of a bull. When he asked the bull about its plight, it did not blame Kali. It replied that there are many conflicting opinions among theorists as to the cause of a living being’s suffering—such as the self, providence, karma, and acquired nature—and it was thus unable to pinpoint the cause of its own plight. Hearing this strikingly objective reply, King Parīkṣit made a telling statement that instructs us in the matter of the non-assignment of blame upon others. He spoke the following words:

O You who have realized the essence of dharma (dharma-jña)! What you speak is perfectly in line with dharma [for in spite of knowing your assailant, you do not identify him and speak as though undecided about the matter]. Thus, you are dharma personified in the guise of a bull. [And what is the fault in identifying an offender? The dharma-śāstras say] that the outcome that an offender must reap is also obtained by his accuser. (SB 1.17.22)

In the same vein, Kṛṣṇa advised Uddhava to neither praise nor condemn the nature and actions of others (SB 11.28.1–2).

(to be continued)

4 thoughts on “Nāma-aparādha: The First Offense”

  1. So, how can the kings sustain their piety without identifying perpetrators of sins?
    In order to keep peace in society and maintain varnashrama king has to punish miscreants. They (thieves, robbers…) also have to be identified by regular people in order to have them up to the king.

  2. If to punish miscreants is king’s dharma and regular people are obliged to grass on miscreants then how to apply the message of SB 1.17.22, which says opposite, in one’s practical life?

    1. If it is necessary to grass on, it should be done but without a feeling of hatred. You have to make a judgment. Not reporting may be more harmful than reporting.
      There are rules and exceptions to rules. How would a kingdom or modern-day state or even an organization or even an ashram or temple run if it did not have people reporting the crimes/wrongdoings of people to the management? Is it not the duty of the management to make sure that those who cause disturbance to the smooth functioning of the organization/state be dealt with?
      Dharma is not simple to understand and follow. There are principles and contrary principles. One has to consider for whom a principle is being described (adhikari), if it is a universal principle, and if there are exceptions to it.
      Therefore, it is said dharmasya tattvam nihitam guhāyām mahājano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ.

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